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Penitent sinner: Brown sorry for 'bigot' remark

By Lewis Hannam

Updated on 28 April 2010

Gordon Brown is forced to apologise – to his party and to Rochdale voter Gillian Duffy – after a microphone picks up an unguarded remark in which he describes Mrs Duffy as a "bigoted woman".

On a day when the Labour leader needed to be picking up votes, Gordon Brown was forced to issue a succession of apologies after a gaffe in which he referred to a Labour-supporting Rochdale voter as "bigoted".

Gordon Brown also returned to the house of Gillian Duffy to offer her his "profound apologies".

As he left Mrs Duffy's house, he told waiting reporters: "I misunderstood what she said.

"I am mortified by what has happened. She has accepted that there was a misunderstanding and she has accepted my apology.

"If you like, I am a penitent sinner."

"Sometimes when you say things, you want to correct it very quickly."

He continued: "I understood the concerns she was bringing to me, and I had simply misunderstood some of the words she'd used.

"Most of all, it's a chance for me to apologise and to say sorry."

But sfterwards Gillian Duffy's neice, Andrea MacDermott, said: "The word 'bigot' is a very strong word. My opinion is, I hope she didn't accept his apology."

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon told Jon Snow that this has been a day wasted for the Labour leader. He said Mr Brown admitted as much in his letter to Labour members in which he in effect says "Let's hope tomorrow is better".

Gary Gibbon said Gordon Brown should be in a position to redeem himself to some extent in tomorrow's final leaders debate, which will focus on the economy. "But the stakes are getting higher," he warned, "and you can tell the other two parties might just be turning on him a bit."

And he reveals that the prime minster’s aides are in fact slightly relieved – because the manner in which Mr Brown responded once he had climbed into the car could have been much worse.

More from Channel 4 News on Brown's 'bigot' gaffe
- Gordon’s bigot gaffe: politicos and people react
- When Gordon met Gillian: full transcript
- Brown’s 'bigot' mishap and other off-guard gaffes
- Gary Gibbon: amazing scenes at Gillian Duffy's door
- Gary Gibbon: Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde moment

The prime minister's comments were recorded as he left Rochdale, where he had a discussion with life-long Labour voter Gillian Duffy.

The unguarded conversation was picked up by a microphone that had been placed on the prime minister's shirt to record his conversations during the campaigning visit.

After getting into his car, Brown was heard to say: "You should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? Sue's I think.

"Everything she said - she's just a bigoted woman."

He was also heard to call the encounter a "disaster" and "ridiculous".

It is understood that "Sue" is Brown's assistant Sue Nye.

Mr Brown had told Mrs Duffy, while talking to her in the street: "It has been very good to meet you - and you are wearing the right colour today. How are your grandchildren?

"A good family. Good to see you."

Mrs Duffy had confronted Brown on the subject of the deficit, tuition fees, benefits and immigration.

She told him: "My family have voted Labour all their lives - my father even sung Red Flag, but now I am ashamed of saying I'm Labour."

Perhaps prompting Brown's criticism that she was a "bigot", Duffy also told Brown: "You can't say anything about the immigrants - all these Eastern Europeans were flocking in."

Mrs Duffy agreed with reporters that the prime minister should apologise to her, adding: "Not personal - I don't want to speak to him again really." She added: "I want to know why those comments I said there, why I was called a bigot."

Mr Brown apologised to the Labour Party and its supporters. But he said: "The worst thing about today is the hurt I caused to Mrs Duffy".

Analysis: it could have been worse
Journalist Andrew Rawnsley, author of The End of the Party, confirmed Gary Gibbon's remark, that the nature of Gordon Brown's gaffe could have been "much, much worse".

He told Jon Snow that "on the scale of Brown volcanic eruptions this was three, when people have witnessed his 10s". Mr Rawnsley thought that a lot of Labour people would be breathing a quiet sigh of relief tonight that there were no "F" words picked up by the microphone.

YouGov pollster Peter Kellner said that polling conducted after the publication of Andrew Rawnsley's book, which revealed the prime minister's volcanic temper, showed that people thought Gordon Brown was "strong" - but he was not sure today's revelation would have the same effect.

Peter Kellner said: "The problem for Gordon Brown, for Labour, is this: that even if the effect is neutral on public opinion, that's not good enough. Labour is struggling for second place in the polls. It needs a surge."

Andrew Rawnsley agreed that Gordon Brown had handled the original encounter with Mrs Duffy well. But he said: "One of the weaknesses of his character is that he over-stresses about the trivial."

Peter Kellner said there were two damaging aspects to today's development. The first was Gordon Brown's "apparent disdain" for a voter who raised "in a not particularly venomous way the issue of immigration". Andrew Rawnsley thought Mrs Duffy probably represented the views of quite a lot of Labour voters

Secondly, Peter Kellner thought the prime minister "almost went too far" in the way he apologised - because there was little doubt that what he had said in the back of the car represented his true feelings.

Gordon Brown apologises to the Labour party in an email today
As you may know, I have apologised to Mrs Duffy for remarks I made in the back of the car after meeting her on the campaign trail in Rochdale today.

I would also like to apologise to you. I know how hard you all work to fight for me and the Labour Party, and to ensure we get our case over to the public.

So when the mistake I made today has so dominated the news, doubtless with some impact on your own campaigning activities, I want you to know I doubly appreciate the efforts you make.

Many of you know me personally. You know I have strengths as well as weaknesses. We all do. You also know that sometimes we say and do things we regret. I profoundly regret what I said this morning.

I am under no illusions as to how much scorn some in the media will want to heap upon me in the days ahead.

But you, like I, know what is at stake in the days ahead and so we must redouble our campaigning efforts to stop Britain returning to a Tory Party that would do so much damage to our economy, our society and our schools and NHS, not least in places like Rochdale.

The worst thing about today is the hurt I caused to Mrs Duffy, the kind of person I came into politics to serve. It is those people I will have in my mind as I look ahead to the rest of the campaign.

You will have seen me in one context on the TV today. I hope tomorrow you see once more someone not just proud to be your leader, but also someone who understands the economic challenges we face, how to meet them, and how that improves the lives of ordinary families all around Britain.



Gordon Brown apologises on live radio
During an earlier interview with BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine, Brown apologised for the remarks. He said: "I apologise if I have said anything like that.

"What I think she was raising with me was an issue about immigration and saying that there were too many people from Eastern Europe in the country.

"I do apologise if I have said anything that has been hurtful and I will apologise to her personally." Brown was then played a recording of his comments.

He added: "Of course she is allowed to express her view and I was saying that. The problem was I was dealing with a question she raised about immigration and I wasn't given a chance to answer it because we had a whole melee of press around her.

"But of course I apologise if I had said anything that has been offensive and I would never put myself in a position where I would want to say anything like that about a woman I met."

Brown later said he had phoned Mrs Duffy to apologise.

Mandelson: Brown did not believe what he said

Peter Mandelson said Gordon Brown had apologised straight away for the hurt of a remark made "in the heat of the moment".

The business secretary said when you’re on the campaign trail, you have encounters of this kind where individuals express their point of view very strongly.

He continued that Gordon Brown did not believe what he had said about her – that is what made him a human being as well as a politician.

Mr Mandelson said Gordon Brown would have been upset deeply by the hurt he had caused Mrs Duffy, and he asked for people to judge him by his response to the incident, phoning her and offering an immediate apology.

The press posse gathers - Nick Martin reports from Rochdale
Tintern Avenue in Rochdale has never seen so much activity.

It’s the home of Gillian Duffy – the Lancastrian grandmother who went out for a loaf of bread this morning and ended up knocked Gordon Brown for six. I’m outside her house along with the rest of the British press.

Twelve cameramen, countless reporters and producers, photographers all squeezed onto Mrs Duffy’s eight by eight front garden.

It was a case of turn up and try to talk to Mrs Duffy at first - but it’s quickly turning into far more. Gordon’s Browns chief aide has just walked up the street, followed by two special branch police officers.

The press are getting twitchy that more could be about to happen. Well more is about to happen, because Gordon Brown, we hear, is about to pop round for a slice of humble pie dished out by Mrs Duffy herself.

Follow Nick Martin on Twitter: @C4NickMartin

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